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What's the business perspective on the SDGs?

14. Mar 2016

This article was written by Rebecca Pratley (PwC Global Sustainability Marketing Leader) & Louise Scott (PwC Global Sustainability Director (SDGs))

Six months after the SDGs were ratified in New York, this month we’ll see the indicators that underpin them agreed. For Governments, this marks a new era to ratchet up activity and resources, firstly to establish the starting point and put in place the monitoring that will be required. And secondly, to define their plans to move the needle on the SDGs actually being achieved over the next 15 years.

Business is on board

Government will look to the business community for support. There’s much talk of business being involved and aligning their business plans and strategy to the goals, thereby growing their business in a way that feeds into the SDGs positively. This could be through interventions that reduce their negative impacts or improve their positive ones, not just in terms of specific projects, but core operations. Or it could be through identifying new products and services with an issue that the global goals cover. The results from the PwC SDG Engagement Survey 2015 - 986 business respondents from 90 countries and 2015 citizen responses from 30 countries - suggest business will step up. 92% of businesses are aware (compared to only 31% of citizens) and 71% are already planning what to do.

At present, business seems most focussed on where they can make a positive impact and where the potential opportunities lie. Unsurprisingly, the highest ranking global goal for both is SDG 8 Decent work and Economic growth. This is where business sees itself having the greatest impact and the greatest opportunity.

Make profit and solve problems

Some may say it’s self-serving, improve everyone’s job prospects or access to work, and business has rather helped themselves. Others will recognise the truth that when business can make a profit from solving social problems, ie. when it makes profit while benefitting society and business performance simultaneously, it creates solutions that are scalable - the thinking behind Michael Porter's Rethinking Capitalism for example. In any case, the general population is perhaps one step ahead as 80% are happy for business to increase profits at the same time as generating economic and social benefits (according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2016).

Citizen expectations are high

Citizens aren’t expecting business to wait to be told what to do or to leave the SDGs for others to achieve (only 5% think this), they’re expecting great things. Our results show citizens expect business to apply SDG thinking to their core business activity, with less emphasis on peripheral projects or reporting. 50% expect business to embed the SDGs into its strategy and the way it does business. However, this is ahead of the ambition that business cited for themselves, and by a long way. Only 31% of business responders say they were currently planning to embed the SDGs in their strategy, and looking ahead this only rises to only 41% who thought they’d be doing it within 5 years.

Shaping the strategy

Will consumers grow impatient with businesses that don’t engage or don’t engage fast enough? This could be a distinct possibility. Firstly, tools seem thin on the ground with only 13% of businesses having identified what they need to be able to assess their impact. Worryingly, this only increases to 30% actually using the tools over the next five years. Secondly, only 29% are setting goals or even preparing to set them – again this is a concern as, in the business world, a lack of objectives and targets equates to a lack of accountability and commitment. Business will need to watch out that a lack of visible or communicated engagement doesn’t become a reputational issue.

How do I achieve a smart start?

Engagement will be slow without the basic tools in place to start the process so PwC has developed the Global Goals Business Navigator to help businesses identify which of the Global Goals are most relevant, given the countries and sectors it operates in. It identifies how each country is currently performing against its SDG goals and targets, and uses input output modelling techniques to highlight relevance across both direct operations and the wider supply chain. It also draws on economic research to identify where value could be at risk from countries failing to achieve their SDG commitments and the potential opportunities (i.e. where business activities could help significantly more), on a country by country basis. It thereby helps business map out and visualise their strategic priorities.

If you have thoughts on this or want to find out more about the Global Goals Business Navigator, contact Louise Scott at

This post is a part of the March 2016 series on Inclusive Business and the Sustainable Development Goals. View the whole series for more examples, tools and insights to help you understand what the SDGs mean for business.